In The Last Wild Men of Borneo, author Carl Hoffman tells the stories of two Westerners who spent their lives in Borneo during the 1970s and 1980s, when it was still largely wild and unexplored. Their personal journies are very different, but they both become embroiled in the changing nature of this beautiful land where orangutans roamed the jungles and tribes of native Borneans lived their lives as the had done for hundreds of years, unexposed to the outside world.
Despite his lack of experience in white-water adventure, in 1995 Joe Kane joined a group of adventurers intent on being the first American to travel the full 4,200-mile length of what may be the world’s most treacherous river: the Amazon. The team he joined was an experienced multinational team of river explorers that planned to navigate the river from its source high up in the Peruvian Andes to the point where it flows out into the Atlantic Ocean – a feat that had never been accomplished. His role was to chronicle the adventure. Of the original 10-member team, which travelled by foot, raft and kayak, only four went the full distance. Kane was one of them. Running the Amazon is his account of this punishing six-month journey.
In 1995 Kane was approached by the expedition leader, South African Francois Odendaal, who had Kane recommended to him by a mutual friend. The timing was perfect as Kane was disillusioned with his job and had doubts about his long-term relationship. Six weeks later he landed in Lima to meet up with the team with little personal preparation mentally and physically. To his advantage, he spoke Spanish fluently and Latin American cultures.
The team of the explorers included two Poles, two South Africans of British descent, three Afrikaners, a Costa Rican naturalist and a British doctor, the only female on the team. They made their way up to 18,000 ft to the source of the Apurimac River, a tributary of the Amazon. A small group launched their kayaks into the river 30 miles below the source point. The others, including Kane, followed the kayakers on foot. After 3 weeks once the river became more navigable Kane and three others joined the kayakers aboard a raft.
The following weeks see the team passing through some very difficult rapids, which on more than one occasion saw members of the expedition in the water and nearly drowning. It was not just the watery hazard that threatened their lives as they had run-ins with drug lords and local guerillas.
Negotiating these challenges put incredible stresses on the crew and partway through the expedition tensions overflow.
This is an incredible and epic adventure story and very well described in Kane’s writing. Despite this adventure being set about 25 years, it does not detract from the story. It is an easy and gripping read and if you love reading wholesome adventure stories I would recommend you try reading this.